Draft posted 20220312
In 1836, an elderly enslaved women who served as a cook at St. Inigoe's Manor responded to a question from H.W. Beschter, SJ, about her life in bondage: had any of her seven masters through her long life whipped her? According to Beschter, the women told him that
when Fr Bolton lived, he give me a good wipping; why? Because I deserved it; I heard some noise in his room, I went to the windows to see what was the matter there, I saw Fr. Bolton give himself a dreadful wipping, next morning I went to him, and on my knees, I begged him not to wip [sic] himself, so what you say, said he, how you know that I wip myself? Why I saw you wip yourself last evening… Well, you say, you saw me… Yeas Fr. said I… Well come here to me after half an hour… Well I went to his room, he bid me to kneel down: I did so, and then he gave me a dreadful wipping for my curiosity…. 1
Having been observed scourging himself, Bolton did not take the opportunity to explain the place of his actions in his faith, but rather he shrank into his humiliation and lashed out at the woman with a violent assault. His response to her concern points to the complex dynamics of religion, gender, and violence in the lives of the hundreds of human beings who were not free to separate themselves from the domination of a community of clergymen.
Bolton's assault on the cook is the only direct evidence of a Jesuit assaulting an enslave person in the archival evidence, but it certainly not the only evidence that violence was a part of the lives of the enslaved people owned by the Jesuits.
At several of the estates, the Jesuits also had white tenant farmers, who could also prove a threat. In September 1797, for some undisclosed reason (maybe there was no reason) a tenant, Thomas O'Donald "violently assaulted old Davy." That single line entry by Fr. Ambrose Marechal in the Bohemia Daybook is one of the very few open acknowledgements of the day to day violence that pervaded a slave society. However, that assault did have some repercussions for O'Donald. Four days later, on September 6, Marechal reported that he "baned T. O'Donald to an orderly life under the forfeiture of L. 150."2
This kind of random attack by a white person tangentially related to the official order and management of an estate was one possibility, but more than likely if physical assault was to be visited up on an enslaved person it was likely to come at the hands of a farm manager or an overseer. Aside from Bolton, there is no specific evidence of Jesuits meeting out corporal punishment to the enslaved. Yet, in his 1820 recommendations to the Maryland Province about how to regularize the circumstances and management of the farms, Jesuit visitor Peter Kenney made a point put two pointed boundaries around the scope of violence, both to some extent based on gender. Kenney directed:
4. That pregnant women should not be whipped.
5. That this chastise.t should not be inflicted on any female in the house, where the priest lives. (Sometimes they have ^been^ tied up in the priests own parlour, which is very indecorous) 3
These two lines suggested that there was a regular regime of violence that Kenney as visitor on assignment from the Superior General in Rome did not condemn. Rather, Kenney saw fit only to circumstribe that violence so that it did not transverse the bounds of propriety with respect to the interactions between a priest and enslaved women.
Kenney's recommendations do not clearly identify Jesuits as the perpetrators of that violence, though the may have been. Just as the enslaved may have been at the mercy of tenant farmers, they were also likely subject to the whims and discipline of hired overseers. Through the years across all of the estates, the Jesuits employed lay overseers to monitor the work of their enslaved people. While each estate had an assigned Jesuit manager, that man was assisted by a hired overseer in most cases. The temperament and effectiveness of these overseers varied by time and place, with several outstanding instances bringing their conduct to the repeated attention of the Jesuit managers.
The conduct that the Jesuits perceived as rising to a place that would require discipline was sometimes just as vague as Peter Kenney's notations about physical assault. Through the years in a variety of journals, letters, and ledgers, the priests discussed individual enslaved people and incidents of misconduct, but they rarely elaborated about those incidents. Behavior that the Jesuits found troubling or even immoral was among the range of activities that scholars of slavery have identified as overt and covert resistance, efforts to provide for their own needs and to assert some control over their personal lives and relationships.
One example of direct instance of cause and effect, even if the initial conduct was not identified, was reported by John McElroy, SJ in 1818. In January 1818, the Jesuits had Davy from White Marsh confined to prison in Washington for some unidentified misconduct. He was to remain there until he was sold. Then in early February, Davy was transferred to Mr. Tiernan in Baltimore who intended to purchase him. But by the end of the month, Davy had promised to amend his ways and was returned to White Marsh.4
Given his long term managing affairs at St. Inigoe's Manor, Joseph Mobberly, SJ had an informed perspective on the kinds of small everyday actions that members of the enslaved community might take to satisfy their needs in a situation of scarcity and restriction. He noted that slaveholders had to endure a range of slights: "now and again master must lose a pig, a sheep, a goose, a turkey, some tobacco, some corn from the field, and perhaps a little wheat from his granary with a long list of et ceteras." These everyday losses could result in a number of possible responses, none of which would be effective in stemming the tide of loss in the long run. Mobberly was deeply aware of the ways the enslaved people in his charge could respond to any attempt at discipline:
Master will complain, but he must bear with the times. His horses will be ridden to death at night while he is asleep, but he will not be a good man if he complains of such trifles. If he commence the system of whipping, he will from that moment be a very bad man. His plantation utensils will be frequently broken and spoiled from in attention, carelessness or malice, however he ought to meet these incidents with christian patience. In time, his negroes may rise and put an end to his life.”5
As someone who was born and raised in Maryland, Mobberly also had a keen sense of the danger that slaveholding posed to the slaveholder as well as the enslaved. His diaries demonstrate a contempt for the enslaved population and a deep fear of Africans as cunning and dangerous. He claimed that the previous generation of enslaved people who were Africans or the first generation born in America were skilled in the art of poisoning, & were malicious to a high degree." While he thought that that immediate danger had passed, he was much more concerned about the chance of uprising, and his fear was not unfounded. Mobberly reported that there had been a significant revolt of roughly 200 people on Easter Monday, 1817 (April 7) at St. Inigoe's store. Though the rebellion was put down, and the participants were punished with whipping and imprisonment, the events stood out in Mobberly's mind as an ongoing threat.6
- H.W. Beschter letter to Patrick Leavy (January 7, 1836), MPA, Box 65, Folder 2. https://findingaids.library.georgetown.edu/repositories/15/archival_objects/1444659 (1836-MPA-65-2-Beschter-Leavy-1836-01-07.json)
- "Bohemia Daybook, 1790-1799," Maryland Province Collection, Box 1, Folder 1, Booth Family Center for Special Collections, Georgetown University. (September 2, 1797) (1790-MPC-1-1-Records of Bohemia-1790.json)
- Peter Kenney, 1820 Consultation Report, Archives of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus (GTM.000119); Box 38; Folder 15. https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/1062955
- John McElroy, SJ, Diary: May 31, 1817-Jun. 21, 1818 (January 22, 1818, February 4 and 23, 1881). Selected Papers of Rev. John McElroy, S.J., Georgetown University Library. https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/761449
- Joseph P. Mobberly. Diary Volume 1. “Memorandum.” Georgetown University Archives, The Joseph Mobberly Papers, 1823. pages 74-77.
- Mobberly, Diary Volume 1. p. 75. Reference to an uprising of 200 on Easter 1817 in St. Mary’s County – Herb Aptheker American Negro Slave Revolts (1943). “On Easter Monday, April 7, 1817, several spontaneous outbursts occurred in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Two hundred Blacks were involved, several whites were injured by sticks, brick bats, and other missiles,” and two houses were sacked before the authorities could restore order [Report from Great Mills, Maryland, April 12, in N. Y. Evening Post, April 21, 1817].” http://slaverebellion.info/index.php?page=united-states-insurrections